All Creatures Great and Small: The Power of Pets

I missed National Pet Day on April 11 by a few weeks. But if you own a dog like Scotty or a kitty cat named Sophie, every day of the year is pet day.

In 4th grade, I drew a cat and colored it charcoal gray. It appears I was as interested in making the wallpaper pretty as I was in drawing a green-eyed cat with its wee kitten.


In first grade, my teacher Miss Longenecker introduced our class to reading via the phonics method with the drawing of a cat illustrating the hard “c” sound. She probably used the Hay & Wingo textbook entitled Reading with Phonics (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1948).

 Hay & Wingo, Reading with Phonics, J. B. Lippincott, 1948
Julie Hay & Charles Wingo, Reading with Phonics, J. B. Lippincott, 1948

We never had a pet cat, probably because my mother was allergic to cat dander, but several memorable dogs cavorted through our childhood. Sporty, an Airedale Terrier mix leaped and frisked around Grandma’s ankles when I was very young.  Boots, a black and white Smooth Fox Terrier, flushed ground hogs from their holes.

My sister Jean remembers other animals too: Our dad raised Angora rabbits housed in wooden crates in the barn attic and another Smooth Fox Terrier named Minnie, as small as she sounds. Sister Jan says we used to dress her up with doll clothes and send her down over the hill to Grandma’s house.

Our brother Mark’s dog, 3-legged Skippy, butterscotch and cream colored, lost one leg when a truck ran over him. Still, he skipped, ran far, and jumped high with just three legs. You’ll see part of his rear end and his tail in the second picture.



Brother Mark with sled and Skippy in the snow 1961
Brother Mark with sled and Skippy in the snow  1961


We all remember Ruthie’s little lamb that felt like mine when I wiggled my fingers digging deep into its wooly coat.

My Aunt Ruthie loved animals all her life, especially dogs. Her last four dogs were Schnauzers, known for their fierce loyalty and protective power. The pure-bred Schnauzuers were all named Fritzie – Fritizie I, II, III, and IV.

In this photo she was probably holding Fritzie III in her lap. The devotion you observe in this photo flowed both ways.


* * *

Like most children, our kids Crista and Joel wanted a dog. We shopped ads in the Dollar Saver for our dog back then and were taken in by the phrase “loves children.” That’s how we found Me-Too, a kid-loving-mailman-hating dog of questionable pedigree. Still, the children doted on her and adopted her into their play. Here the frame of their baby buggy became a carriage with Me-Too as the pony express.




Not surprisingly, research shows that pets promote health, both physical and emotional.

Pets in the household can reduce everyday stress – lift one’s mood and provide physical contact. They provide an outlet for nurturing too: Pet owners have a living thing to care for. And finally, pets keep one active: walking the dog, feeding the cat.

Several of my writing friends admit that a pet dog or cat serves as muse: Kathy Pooler, Merril Smith, and Susan Weidener. Other authors have pets that appear on their blog posts from time to time: Laurie Buchanan, Janet Givens, and Elaine Mansfield. Lord David Prosser observes that his alarm cat Oscar wakens him from slumber every morning. And photographer Lady Fiona’s dogs enliven most of her fabulous photographs. Marylin Warner is training a puppy, but I don’t think she would call Scout her muse yet.

* See note below.


Books with animal characters

Books of my childhood:

  • Anne of Green Gables – Dog Monday
  • Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls’ dogs – Jack, the brindle bulldog, and Bandit, the stray, appear in her books
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

Literary works:

In The Odyssey, I recall Homer’s beloved Argos, who patiently waited for him at journey’s end. Maybe you remember this faithful dog too.

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, cats romped in the Bennett household, at least according to author Pamela Jane.

Anton Chekhov wrote a short story entitled The Lady with the Dog, preserved here in statuary forever viewing the Black Sea in Yalta. When we visited in 2011, Crimea was still part of Ukraine.



In the 1970s James Herriot books were all the rage both here in the States and internationally. Herriot, an English veterinarian, immortalized farm animals, pets, and their owners in his popular series set in the Yorkshire dales and moors. I read many of the titles: All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and The Lord God Made Them All.


What pets populated your home or the pages of books you loved? What items can you add to the list of benefits of owning a pet?

Leave a line or two here. You can also include endearing (or not) pet anecdotes.

Incidentally, if I inadvertently missed listing you as an author with a pet muse, please bark at me, so I can rectify the oversight ~ pronto.


Daisy with Jenna in pigtails
Daisy with grand-daughter Jenna in pigtails


Coming next: Baby Beads and Wooden Blocks: Happy Mother’s Day!







Acquainted with Grief: Author Elaine Mansfield Speaks

January 28, 2014 – It is six months to the day since Mother passed away. I feel melancholy now. Maybe the cold weather has something to do with it, but more and more I miss the warmth of our Saturday morning long-distance phone calls and sitting around her dining room table, the tingly warmth of homemade vegetable soup in my belly.

Elaine Mansfield too has experienced loss – of her mother and of her husband both in a 13-month time span. She eloquently records the loss of her husband in a memoir entitled Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (October 2014)

LeaningIntoLove cover hi res

Elaine and I definitely differ in our world view and philosophy of life, hers based on Jungian psychology and meditation, and mine with a distinctively Christian perspective. Yet pain is pain, and we share the intimate, human experience of grief.

Here is our conversation about Elaine’s unique journey:

MB: How did your mother’s passing in 2007 affect you and Vic?

EM: My mom had Alzheimer’s Disease for twelve years. Her body was curled in a fetal position and her eyes were closed. She had been unresponsive for years. She died quietly during a lull in Vic’s cancer treatment, so grieving for my mother merged with anticipatory grief for Vic.

Iva_Elaine 2004


MB: Why did you write Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey Through Grief?

EM: At first, I wrote to digest and understand what had happened. When times are rough, I pay attention to life’s lessons. Writing was my way of doing that. During Vic’s illness, I kept journals so I could remember every detail during an emotional time. Five years after his death, my experiences became a book to help others deal with love and loss. I also hoped to create an engaging memoir that would interest any reader.


MB: What is the main theme of your book?

EM: The book is about a strong marriage and the initiation of losing a trusted partner: dissolution of the old order, then a period of confusion and despair, then a slow return to new life and possibility.


Vic & Elaine 1968


MB: In the book you promise your dying husband of 42 years, “I’ll find a way to be all right.”  What lies behind this statement?

EM: Vic and I shared every joy, sorrow, and dream. We’d had an intimate relationship since I met him when I was 21. He was concerned about leaving me and concerned about my grief. Even while I did all I could to help him live, I felt determined to find a way to make life work after his death. He was relieved when I said so. Of course, I had no idea how challenging that would be.


MB: Just like in your blog posts, you use poetic language in your book to describe bereavement and your slow recovery. For example, you describe a group of dolphins as “luminous revelations leaping from the great unconscious sea.” What other descriptive lines from the book are you especially proud of?

EM: “Our first kisses taste of tears and the knowledge that our time together is finite.”

“Mostly he sleeps, but when he’s awake, he whispers words of sweet gratitude.”

“Despite my better judgment, hope floats in, ethereal and transient as a feather.”


MB: What will readers learn from the book? What is the take-away?

EM: Everyone loses things they love—people, jobs, homes, health, dreams. It’s natural to grieve and long for what we cherish. I’ve learned that facing our losses and sorrows makes us more realistic and open-hearted human beings. We understand what matters in life and see that everyone suffers. In this way, sorrow leads us to kindness.


MB: Your book attracts readers who have dealt with or are now dealing with loss. What is your best advice to them?

EM: Experiment and find what comforts you: solitude, friends, nature, music, therapy. The smallest rituals helped me. I left flowers at the gravesite and said prayers there. Writing brought me daily comfort.

Watch for small signs of joy and hope. A bird chirping. The first spring flower. A child’s laughter. Grief is part of life. Give yourself time to feel what you feel. Open to grief and let it open your heart to love.

Elaine with her sons David and Anthony
Elaine with her sons David and Anthony


Her biography

Elaine Mansfield’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief was published by Larson Publications (October 2014). Elaine writes from a spiritual perspective that reflects over forty years as a student of philosophy, Buddhism, Jungian psychology, mythology, and meditation. Elaine gave a TEDx talk called “Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss” on November 8, 2014 with TEDx ChemungRiver at Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY.

After a career as a health counselor and writer, Elaine’s work has focused on bereavement and loss since her husband’s death in 2008. Elaine facilitates bereavement support groups at Hospicare and Palliative Care Services in Ithaca, NY and writes for the Hospicare newsletter and website. She also writes a weekly blog about the adventures and lessons of life and loss, leads workshops, and lectures on bereavement topics. Her articles have been published in The Healing Muse, Open to Hope, Shambhala Sunspace, KirstyTV,,, GriefHealing, and elephantjournal.

About Leaning into Love:

“Reading this beautiful memoir of love and loss and triumph felt to me like a sacred journey into the very heart and soul of the courageous woman who writes it.” Marty Tousley of Grief Healing.

“Not only a touching and courageous memoir about love, illness, death and grief, Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love is a manual for healing that offers us the emotional and spiritual tools needed to grow and even flourish through Life’s deepest crises.” Dale Borglum, Living/Dying Project

Buy the book

See her website

Hear her TEDx talk


They say that “Time assuages” –
Time never did assuage –
An actual suffering strengthens
As Sinews do, with Age –

 Emily Dickinson

Mother Ruth Metzler Longenecker    1918 - 2014
Mother Ruth Metzler Longenecker  1918 – 2014

How about you? How have you dealt with grief over the loss of a loved one, mother, father, life partner, close relative — a pet, even?